How to Find the Right Suppliers for Your Restaurant

Charlette Beasley

Charlette is a writer and content strategist in Florida. She writes payroll content for Fit Small Business and helps her own clients create industry-specific copy for their business. In addition, she loves “beaching” with her two kids.

Finding the right suppliers for your restaurant is essential. A reliable supplier will ensure your supply orders are fulfilled on time and priced according to agreed-upon terms, which helps keep your customers happy and your budget in check. 

Choosing good restaurant suppliers is a process. You’ll start by identifying the items your business needs and the primary characteristics you’re looking for in a vendor. This will help as you explore the different options that are available.

modern room with tables and chairs bought from in suppliers

Make a list of your restaurant’s supply needs

Before beginning your search for vendors, make a list of all of the supplies you need for your restaurant. This can include food, non-food, like containers, linen, pots, pans, first-aid supplies, and so on. It’s important that you create an exhaustive list, meaning you shouldn’t leave out any restaurant supplies you’ll need. 

Give yourself plenty of time to complete this exercise on the front-end, so you can avoid running into any supply issues going forward. Failing to consider what your business needs to operate each day and how often you’ll need it is a recipe for disaster. It can leave you unequipped to service your customers and cause you to spend more money. 

When you’re forced to purchase supplies in an emergency, you may have to use vendors that aren’t the best fit for your restaurant. 

Define what you need in your restaurant suppliers

Once you have a list of everything your business needs, you can move on to determining the attributes you need in your restaurant suppliers. If your restaurant is new and you’re strapped for cash, affordable pricing is ideal. Other factors you should consider are convenience — does the vendor deliver, or do you have to pick up? Do you want a one-stop shop that allows you to purchase the majority of your needs from one company? 

If you happen to face conflicting priorities, like quality versus cost, try to find the best balance for your business. In this scenario, you might consider sacrificing on premium quality if the cost exceeds your budget and the supply item isn’t pivotal to your restaurant’ success (for instance, with to-go containers if most of your customers dine in).

Shop around for the right restaurant suppliers

To find the best suppliers, you’ll need to shop around. Don’t just use the first vendor you run across. There are numerous options, both local and online. Keep in mind that having multiple restaurant suppliers is common in the industry, because companies have different specialties. As long as you know what your top priorities are when considering new supply vendors, you’ll be able to filter through those that don’t belong. 

Evaluating different suppliers

As you begin to explore the different supplier options you have, you’ll need an evaluation system to help you narrow the list down to the top vendors for your restaurant. You can perform online searches to help verify that the supplier is an active and legitimate business that you can trust. You can also check reviews that other customers leave on third-party websites. Customers are generally forthcoming with their experiences.

Another strategy you can try is spending time talking to other restaurateurs in your area and/or online if that suits you best. Most companies are willing to make recommendations based on the supplier’s availability, customer service quality, and so forth. If you opt to conduct most of your evaluation using the internet, consider joining restaurant owner forums or similar social media groups.

Common restaurant suppliers

Some restaurant suppliers are used more often than others. Here’s a list of common restaurant vendors that many restaurateurs opt to use:

  • Sysco: Although not the cheapest, it’s well-known in the market,  has great customer service, and an online ordering system. You can purchase a wide range of supplies, including food, to lessen the number of vendors you need.
  • Aramark: To purchase linen, bathroom, and first-aid supplies
  • Labatt: Great for produce & fresh options
  • Webstaurant: Free shipping if you pay $99 to join their free shipping club
  • Sam’s Club: Local; cheaper pricing, because they sell supplies in bulk
  • U.S. Foods: It has a standard online ordering system as well as consistent and competitive pricing.

Build a relationship with your supplier

After you choose the suppliers with which you want to work, you should work on building a solid relationship with them. Connecting with your assigned representative for each vendor is key to securing the best pricing and a good experience. 

A good sales rep will learn your business inside and out and give you insight you may not have otherwise been privy to — industry trends, upcoming price increases, and so on.

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